In a few short days the great solemnity of Christmas will be celebrated. The last days of Advent may be easily overlooked with last minute shopping, cooking, baking and other preparations for Christmas that take center stage. In a sense, we never lose the anticipation of children for that great day. Yet, before the Christmas celebration begins, it is important to remember one important fact: Advent never really ends. Oh, the Advent wreath is put away for another year. The Advent readings used for Mass and the Divine Office cease. The interior of a church is radically different in order to celebrate the Christmas season. Yet, for all that, Advent never ends.
Any season of the Church year is merely a more intense living of how a Catholic is called to live, whether it be the need for ongoing conversion that Lent stresses, or the confident daily living of the victory of the Risen Christ celebrated in the Easter season, or the life of joyful expectation and anticipation caused by the many comings of Jesus stressed in Advent. The end of the Advent season does not mean that the Lord ceases to come to us, nor of our need to prepare for His return. His offer of life and fulfillment proclaimed by the prophets continues throughout the year. Jean Danielou wrote, “Since the coming of Christ goes on forever – he is always he who is to come in the world and in the church – there is always Advent going on.” The Virgin Mary provides the best example of always living Advent with her words to Gabriel and the Father, “let it be done to me as you say.”
Mary had to say “let it be” in order to “let it be.” She needed to speak those words to her fear caused by the overwhelming request to be the mother of the Savior. Those words needed to be spoken in order to let go of the need to have questions answered, and thus remain in control of her life. As the woman of faith, she spoke those words not only to herself but also to the Father. It became an act of ongoing trust, not only in His plan of salvation but also His love and care for her. In saying “let it be”, Mary continued to create a place within her for God to dwell. She needed to speak those words over and over again throughout her life, from when her Son left home to begin His mission, to His death on a cross, and beyond. Mary experienced a dying to self when she let everything be or go, which was beyond her but never beyond God, standing before Him with open hands and heart to always receive Him.
If there was a dying to self, there was also a rising, a letting be, let it happen to the unbelievable life her Son brought into the world. Her hymn of praise, her Magnificat, proclaims that new world when God would cast down the mighty from their thrones and raise up the lowly – let it be, let it happen! The time would come when God would fill the hungry with every good thing but the rich would be sent away empty – let it be! Promise after promise spoken by God through the prophets and now fulfilled in her Son as Mary continues to say and live “let it be”, let it happen as you promised from of old!
If Christ is so deeply in love with every human being that he is always calling and seeking them, then every human being must live in a sense of anticipation and expectation of His continual coming to them. Every believer must live Advent – the coming of Christ into their lives and world. In order to live that life, like our Mother, we need to say, “let it be” to let go of anything that would cause us to be blind or deaf to the coming of Christ. He comes through the Scriptures, the Mass, our cries for forgiveness answered in the sacrament of Reconciliation, or the beauty of nature that causes us to pause and gaze at a starry sky or the rich colors of a sunset. We need to be still and wait to recognize the Christ in disguise among the needy, family, community members or a stranger. If we can “let be” our concerns, let go our wants and self-centered living, then, like the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, we discover a world “charged with the grandeur of God.”
Then the Christian, like the glorious Virgin, can say “let it be” and the Christ will become enfleshed once again through a living out of the faith. The words “let it be” mean the hungry are fed, the sick are cared for, the unborn protected, those in doubt are comforted, and Christ is made known not only with strong words, but in lives that bear Him witness. The world will come to know once again His name – Emmanuel – the God who came to us and never has left us.